Column 1T H E
P A R L I A M E N T A R Y D E B A T E S
IN THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FIFTY-FIRST PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
[WHICH OPENED 27 APRIL 1992]
FORTY-THIRD YEAR OF THE REIGN OF
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
SIXTH SERIES VOLUME 247
FIFTEENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1993-94
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris) : Primary responsibility for developing the underground network rests with London Underground Ltd. A substantial part of the Jubilee line extension currently under construction runs south of the river and London Underground has plans for a southern extension of the east London line.
Mr. Dowd : I thank the Minister for that response. I realise that London Underground Ltd. will be the primary body involved in any work. I welcome the extension of the Jubilee line and the docklands light railway, but does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that they do no more than touch the periphery of south-east London ? We need a major extension through south- east London and on to Bromley and/or Croydon. The commercial, social and, in these days, environmental case for that is overwhelming.
Column 2Will the hon. Gentleman's Department do all that it can to encourage London Underground to undertake detailed feasibility and preparatory work to determine what the options might be ? We need an end to the present unsatisfactory situation in which almost 2 million people in south-east London are denied access to the most important strategic transport network in the capital.
Mr. Norris : As the hon. Gentleman knows, a study is currently under way, involving the five south London boroughs and London Underground, of precisely the problem to which he has referred. I accept what he says about the absence of a tube line in that area of south London, not least because I live there and am acutely aware of it. We rely on buses and on Network SouthEast, but there is no doubt that the tube would be a great addition.
As I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, a tube line would be an extraordinarily expensive proposition, so it would not be reasonable of me to suggest that there might be an immediate prospect of a transport improvement of that sort being delivered. As I said, however, work is being done on examining the feasibility and the benefits to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I will keep a careful watch over that.
Mr. Evennett : Although I welcome my hon. Friend's comments on proposals to improve public transport in south-east London, may I urge him not to forget the needs of the motorist and the travelling public who want to travel by car ? The east London river crossing must be part of any overall improvement in south-east London. Although people living in Erith, Crayford, Bexley and other such areas want an improvement in public transport, they also need more crossing points on the river so that they can use their cars.
Mr. Norris : One of the improvements south of the river is £800 million-worth of new Networker trains on the Kent link line, which benefit my hon. Friend's constituents and others in that area. His comment about the need for more river crossings is well understood ; however, he knows that many of the proposals for crossings have encountered difficulties, not least with local authorities such as his local authority in Bexley. For example, the proposal for a road
Column 3from the A13 through to the A2016 was not only specifically precluded from the original Oxleas wood public inquiry, but would--as my hon. Friend's local authority has pointed out--cause concern about localised traffic, not least in the Bexley area.
Mr. Keith Hill : On the subject of improvements to underground services south of the river, is the Minister aware that members of the all- party Northern line group recently visited the ABB and GEC Alsthom factories at Derby and Preston, both of which are champing at the bit to supply new rolling stock for the Northern line--as, I am sure, are their overseas competitors ?
Will the hon. Gentleman reassure the House that the summer recess will be used as an opportunity not for delay but for the speediest possible consideration and favourable conclusion to that urgently needed improvement to the Northern line, both north and south of the river ?
Mr. Norris : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the private finance initiative and his enthusiasm for its delivery to a safe conclusion. Although it is not for me or my right hon. Friend to show any preference at this stage for those who are competing to supply the Northern line trains, we follow the matter with interest and will certainly ensure that time is not lost unnecessarily.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor) : Motorway tolling will provide another source of finance for improving the motorway network, helping to avoid the congestion and associated environmental problems that would otherwise come with economic growth and increasing traffic. It will also enable more efficient use to be made of the network, for example, by pricing to spread peak-period congestion.
Mrs. Knight : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, but motorway noise will still be high. Is he aware that the houses of my constituents in Long Eaton and Sawley are a bare 20 ft from the edge of the M1, with only a garden fence between them and the traffic ? In such circumstances, does he agree that effective sound barriers are needed, whether or not the motorway is widened, so that my constituents can again hear themselves speak in their gardens ?
Mr. MacGregor : The effective way of dealing with that problem is to take measures when the motorway is widened. My hon. Friend will know that a preview of the public consultation for widening between junctions 25 and 18 is taking place today and in the coming weeks. I believe that my hon. Friend has been able to discuss all those matters on site with representatives of the Highways Agency. I can tell her that the agency expects mitigation measures, which will come with the widening, to reduce
Column 4the noise significantly, and they will include contouring the adjoining land, putting up fencing and the other measures to which she refers.
Mr. Spring : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extra revenue raised from tolls can be used to improve motorways, thus diverting money to help keep traffic off minor roads ? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, in rural Suffolk constituencies such as mine, where there is great concern about excessive traffic in our historic villages, the environmental advantages of that are fully recognised ?
Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is certainly right that that will be one benefit of motorway tolling ; it will enable additional finance to be found for the widening of motorways. That will enable us to avoid some of the environmental disadvantages that will accompany increasing traffic if traffic increasingly goes off the motorways and on to historic towns and villages or other villages and towns nearby. So there is definitely an environmental benefit to be had from motorway tolling--in addition, of course, to the benefits of reducing congestion and its costs.
Mr. Bennett : But what estimate does the Minister have of the number of people who will not be willing to pay the tolls and will divert on to existing roads instead ? Is not he already aware that some people seem reluctant to pay tolls on some of the river crossings and are already putting extra burdens on existing roads ? Is not this a crazy policy ?
Mr. MacGregor : If the hon. Gentleman looks at the consultation document on motorway tolling, which was published last year, he will see that that was addressed fully in a chapter of its own. The point is, first, that it is important to keep the motorway tolls at a reasonable level to avoid the danger of local diversion but, secondly, that if we do not widen the motorways, diversion to local roads is likely to be much greater because of congestion on those motorways.
Ms Eagle : But does not the Secretary of State realise that, if he imposes a tax on using motorways, people will seek to avoid it by diverting on to other roads ? All that he is doing is creating even more problems for drivers and public transport policy. Surely, what he should do is to instigate proper public transport policy and persuade people to move away from using the car.
Mr. MacGregor : We are currently spending very substantial sums on public transport. Investment is at a record level. The hon. Lady must recognise that it would not be possible to duplicate with a public transport system all the many thousands of journeys with different sources and different destination points that are undertaken each day on the motorway. That would be physically impossible. It is therefore important to improve the motorways to avoid the very dangers that she foresees of diversion on to local roads which will arise if the motorways are not effective.
Mr. MacGregor : I am pleased to say that, on average over the year ending 24 June 1994, 14 of the 15 south-east commuter routes met or exceeded their passengers charter standards for punctuality and 12 met or exceeded their standards for reliability.
Mr. Waterson : But does my right hon. Friend agree that it makes complete nonsense of attempts by management and staff to improve rail services and to benefit from increased investment in the railway system when the whole system can be brought to a halt by a small group of workers harking back to the bad old days of excessive trade union power ?
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend that the strike does not help with improvements for passengers--or, indeed, for all customers, including freight customers--on the railways, for the very reason that my hon. Friend gives. If there are damaging and unnecessary strikes, they frighten traffic off the railway which may not come back. Such strikes can only be at the expense of investment in the railways and thus damage the interests of all those who work on the railways. So I agree with my hon. Friend. The strike is damaging and unnecessary.
I hope that strike action will cease, because it is perfectly possible to reach a modern employment salary deal for the signalmen, as it has been possible to do for so many others. I hope that the signalmen will get on with negotiating that.
Dr. Spink : Notwithstanding the welcome recent improvements, as reflected by the passengers charter, and also the improvements that will flow from the £100 million resignalling project and the 25 317 sliding -door trains that will be introduced at the end of next year, does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot improve services while the hard men of the left are on strike ?
Mr. MacGregor : I think that my hon. Friend is referring to his own line, the London, Tilbury and Southend line. He is right to draw attention to the improvements on that line. Those improvements have come through management and employees working together in advance of the substantial capital investment to which he referred. I repeat that I believe that the strike is damaging to the railway industry and all who work in it. It is unnecessary, because it is perfectly possible to have a good, modern employment package for the signalmen. I hope that the strike will now end.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance from the Dispatch Box that, if there were an accident on the railways in the Network SouthEast area arising out of the use of untrained signalmen, Railtrack would be fully insured against any claims for damages ?
Mr. MacGregor : Railtrack is taking all the steps necessary to ensure safety, as everyone would. Railtrack has informed the Health and Safety Executive of all the competence checks that it is applying to ensure that its legal duty on safety is met. It is for the inspectorate to ensure that that happens.
Mr. Snape : Does the Secretary of State agree that, if Railtrack is allowed to make an offer similar to the 5.7 per cent. offer that was withdrawn following his intervention, that would be likely to make a majority of signalmen reflect on whether they should go back to work ? If his hon. Friends are going to trot out those hoary old stories about the hard left, is not it about time that he joined the hard left and we wheeled out Mr. Solomon Binding and allowed him to negotiate freely between the two sides without the interference of the Secretary of State or some of his silly hon. Friends on the Back Benches ?
Mr. MacGregor : I have made it clear that the Government's approach to public sector pay should be followed in this case. The approach is that any productivity improvements for the future--of which there are many because there are still an awful lot of very old-fashioned practices on the railways--should be self-financing and the total cost should be met out of Railtrack's wage bill. That is the position that I have made clear. I believe that the offer that has been made is reasonable.
The real question, which has been often asked and never answered, is whether the Labour leadership will condemn this unnecessary and damaging strike. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has said that he supports the strikers. Will the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), on behalf of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), say whether the Labour leadership condemns the unnecessary strike, which is damaging to the railways and all who work in them. Yes or no ?
Mr. Dunn : Is my right hon. Friend aware that all Conservative Members want to see improving standards of service on Network SouthEast ? Is not it clear that the image of the region will suffer so long as the RMT strike continues and continues to be dominated by a handful of Marxist- Leninists, many of whom have friends on the Opposition Benches ?
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend on two points. First, escalating the strike to two days a week looks like a throwback to the sort of actions that we saw in the 1970s, which so damaged the industries affected. Secondly, the strike will be damaging for railwaymen because many passengers are finding alternatives means of transport and some of them will stick to them. Even worse, all that is happening at a time when we are trying to get more freight off road and on to rail, particularly with the opening of the freight terminals to the channel tunnel, a major opportunity for the railways. Having unreliable trains that do not run because of a strike is not the best way of attracting new freight on to the railways. That is why I say that the strike is damaging, unnecessary and not in the interests of railwaymen.
Mr. Harvey : Passengers in the south-east and elsewhere have experienced disturbances for some weeks because of the dispute over productivity and pay. Does the Secretary of State agree that, given that the efforts of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to bring about a reconciliation do not appear to have succeeded, it is time for the matter to go to independent arbitration ? Will he urge that on Railtrack ?
Column 7thoroughly discussed and negotiated. A modern employment package is on offer which, not least in terms of improved, much- enhanced basic pay and much-enhanced pensions, is in the interests of signalmen as well as of the railway industry.
Mr. Wilson : Will the Secretary of State give a clear and unequivocal answer to the question : is there any person working in a signal box anywhere in Britain on days of industrial action who would not be there at other times in terms of achieving the certificate of competence ? Have the conditions changed in any way to accommodate the industrial action ? Does he agree that if the Government were to get out of the dispute, it could be solved very quickly ? Will he answer another specific question : will he allow Railtrack to restore the 5.7 per cent. offer which took account of retrospective productivity gains which it knew were fair, which the unions knew were fair, and which only the Government prevented from being delivered ?
Mr. MacGregor : I understand that Railtrack ensures that all staff operating signals are competent to do so under the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the Railway (Safety Critical Work) Regulations 1994. It is reasonable for the Government to have an approach towards public sector pay, given the substantial proportion of overall Government expenditure that is involved--more than 25 per cent. I note that the Labour party is talking about controlling public expenditure, but shies away from any steps that are taken to do so. It is reasonable for the Government to have an overall attitude to the matter, but it is for Railtrack and the RMT to negotiate. All hon. Members will have observed that, once again, those on the Opposition Front Benches are refusing to make clear their position on an unnecessary and damaging strike.
4. Mr. Alison : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the beneficial effect on historic buildings of the removal of heavy traffic from towns and villages by diverting it on to new bypasses.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : Right hon. and hon. Members throughout the House remind me ceaselessly of the benefits of bypasses, for both the buildings and the people of communities living with high levels of through traffic.
Mr. Alison : Representing, as he does, a cathedral city, will my hon. Friend harness his natural ecclesiastical sympathies to his considerable political weight to expedite the day when Selby abbey is embellished and protected by the Selby bypass ?
Mr. Key : Yes, of course I will. Since the memorable delegation that my right hon. Friend brought to see me last year, progress has been made. The forces of nature, however, cannot be ignored and, in engineering terms, the scheme is particularly difficult. There have been problems with ground work, but I hope that compulsory purchase orders can be published in the autumn.
Mr. Flynn : Does not the Minister realise that growth in traffic has meant that bypasses are being deserted and that traffic is going back into the historic heart of cities, poisoning the people there with an unprecedented mixture
Column 8of carcinogens, benzenes, and PM s ? All are produced and pumped out into the atmosphere. They are then held in place by a lid of barometric pressure and a windless day, and are cooked by the sunshine. We are creating a lethal cocktail for our people to breathe in and we do not yet know the results of the inquiry into what happened in December 1991. As this enormously dangerous, uncontrolled experiment is occurring in our cities every fine day, how on earth can we contemplate doubling the growth of traffic ?
Mr. Wolfson : Does my hon. Friend agree that when new bypasses are built or motorways widened, one of the continuing problems is that of noise ? Does he support my contention that, where possible, quieter road surfaces should be used ? Porous asphalt, in particular, is a positive move forward and we want much more of it.
Mr. Key : Of course my hon. Friend is right. Noise can be an abomination and can ruin the quality of life of many people. But my hon. Friend should not rely only on porous asphalt. Technology is on our side and even better surfaces are now being developed. For example, whisper concrete is not only quieter but lasts many times as long as porous asphalt, which means that roads do not have to be dug up as often.
Mr. Key : We receive many representations about road improvement schemes from individuals and organisations, the majority of which express concern that it has not been possible to proceed with particular schemes as fast as people would like.
Sir David Knox : Is my hon. Friend aware of the great concern in my constituency about the removal of the Leek-Rushton bypass from the national trunk road programme ? What measures does he intend to take to deal with the problem of congestion in Leek, and does he think that the project should be reinstated in the programme ?
Mr. Key : I remember very well the representations that my hon. Friend made on behalf of his constituents earlier this year--and I, too, was sorry that the Leek bypass was withdrawn on environmental and economic grounds. But the district council and the Highways Agency are meeting on 22 July to consider a package of local improvement measures for the town and I should not wish to pre-empt those discussions.
8. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many (a) private cars, (b) buses and (c) other vehicles are currently using London's roads ; what this figure was (i) 10 and (ii) 20 years ago ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Norris : I am afraid that the figures that my hon. Friend wants are not readily available in the form that he requested, but, for instance, between 1972 and 1990, the number of motor vehicles crossing the cordon line around inner London in a 24-hour count rose by 16 per cent.
Mr. Greenway : Well, certainly Shanks's pony, and no doubt some of them would like to use horses to overcome the problems of getting to work that are posed by the strike. Is not it outrageous that they are being exploited-- and constituents throughout the country are being exploited-- by a group of people whose best interests would be served by their getting back to work and staying there ?
Mr. Norris : I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right. His constituents will investigate other means of getting to work and some, no doubt, will continue to use them when this sorry dispute is over. It seems to me to be an absolutely classic case of how to commit industrial suicide.
Ms Glenda Jackson : Is the Minister aware that my local authority, Camden, today issued a report showing that European Union guidelines on nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone have been breached consistently in the past month ? What additional funds are the Government attempting to find, first, to create more bicycle lanes in my local authority and, secondly, to provide a properly integrated public transport system for London and Londoners ?
Mr. Norris : I am never greatly surprised by anything that Camden council does, but the Government acknowledge that the problems of air pollution are extremely serious. The hon. Lady should know of the extensive pattern of works and programmes that is in place to improve air quality, of which improved facilities for cyclists is an important element. She will be aware of the 1,000 mile cycleway that the Department of Transport has sponsored, which I am pleased to see boroughs taking forward. I hope that she will note that a number of Labour boroughs have seemed to be extraordinarily unwilling to introduce their 1,000 mile cycleway plans, but perhaps she will urge them to do so more quickly.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : Does my hon. Friend accept that during the years of economic growth in the 1980s the number of people commuting by car in central London fell and the number of people using public transport rose, and is not it a tragedy that in the past month and a half every single person who relies on the railway, as many of my constituents do, has been shown that the railways are unreliable and that most of the investment will be delayed by this ridiculous strike ? Is not it about time that RMT- sponsored Members of Parliament started siding with the traveller and not with antiquated union agreements ?
Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend must be entirely right. It cannot be anything other than sheer industrial lunacy to kill the basis of the industry that one hopes will provide one's future employment. That is exactly what the RMT signalmen are doing in the dispute. The sooner they understand that, the better they, and Londoners, will be.
Mr. Raynsford : Why was the Minister so coy about revealing the figures ? Does he accept that, over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the volume of traffic involving private cars and lorries coming into London and, simultaneously, a drastic and very serious decline in the use of London's buses ? Does he recognise that that is the path to disaster in London ? Until the Government understand the lesson and change their policy, all that Londoners will have on offer is a nightmare of increasing congestion, pollution and traffic chaos.
Mr. Norris : I am delighted to say that, as London has had a Conservative Government for most of the past 20 years, economic activity has increased substantially and the amount of traffic has increased with it. However, the hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. The number of passenger journeys on London's buses increased by 8 per cent. between 1982 and 1992.
Mr. Jessel : Given the enormous importance of both bus and car traffic in London, will my hon. Friend send for papers from Kingston council about its intention to close Kingston bridge for repairs for an entire year ? That will cause enormous disruption as there will then be a six-mile stretch of the Thames within Greater London without any road bridge.
Mr. Norris : I understand my hon. Friend's quite proper concern about Kingston bridge, which is in his constituency. I hope that he will appreciate that it is not a bridge for which I have direct responsibility. However, if my hon. Friend would care to discuss the matter with me, I will certainly do what I can to assist.
Mr. MacGregor : As a result of improvements to vehicle standards, the MOT emission check and the planned real increase in fuel duty, pollution from motor traffic is falling and will continue to do so until well into the next decade. We continue to be concerned about this problem, are undertaking further research and would be ready to take further action when appropriate.
Mr. Denham : When 1 million asthma sufferers are at risk from air pollution, will not the Minister's words strike everyone as a sign of complete complacency ? Are not even his smallest priorities wrong ? Is not he embarrassed by the contrast between the ludicrous amount of energy that has been spent on the ridiculous cones hotline and the difficulty that people have in reporting polluting vehicles to the authorities ? Is he aware that my constituents are told that they must ring Bristol at their own expense, that no one has ever been prosecuted as a result of a telephone call to the unit in Bristol and that none of the police forces have the portable devices necessary to test and then prosecute grossly polluting vehicles ?
Mr. MacGregor : On the last point, we are specifically carrying out research to discover what can be done to achieve a fully effective system, as there is not yet one. However, the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about complacency. A substantial number of actions have been taken in the past three years, some of which I have listed,
Column 11and the introduction of catalytic converters will reduced harmful emissions by more than 75 per cent. It is important that such actions are taken at European Union level, not least because continental sources account for roughly half ground-level ozone concentrations in the southern part of Britain. That is why we are pursuing the matter at that level, why further measures are being taken in the Council of Ministers and why I am always ready, because I very much share the concern about the problem, to consider other action which could be taken.
Sir Jim Spicer : Does my right hon. Friend accept that while all those measures are good, if traffic is stationary in one place for a long time, there is a build-up of pollution ? May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the village of Tolpuddle yesterday held the annual commemoration of the Tolpuddle martyrs ? The traffic jams consequent upon that were horrendous. However, for 364 other days of the year, my constituents suffer from the same problem. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Minister for Roads and Traffic to ensure that the Tolpuddle bypass is moved up the list as a matter of urgency ?
Mr. MacGregor : As my hon. Friend knows, we have drawn up a list of priorities for bypasses, and he is right to draw attention to their importance. Traffic that is either not moving or is moving very slowly pollutes the atmosphere much more than normal moving traffic. That is why it is so extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats have committed themselves to removing 41 major motorway improvements, which is bound to have considerable environmental disadvantages, not least in respect of the atmosphere. The many traffic calming measures and other measures that we are introducing, in particular the red routes in London, are designed to make a contribution to improving the situation. We have to take a series of steps, and those are just some of them.
Ms Walley : Rather than going it alone, why will the Secretary of State not say that it is important that he should work with the Departments of Health and of the Environment ? It is impossible to do anything about the problem of pollution if he is not prepared, with his colleagues, to set standards for, and to monitor, air quality. Is not it the right hon. Gentleman's roads programme which is at fault ? Is not the real problem that it is generating more traffic ?
Mr. MacGregor : I assure the hon. Lady that we co-operate in working on those issues and in working on planning policy guidance note 13 to find solutions. I beg the hon. Lady to understand that the roads programme has an important contribution to make to our economic competitiveness, which is the other important part of it, as well as to enabling the many millions of our citizens who want to use their cars more to do so. The programme is important because unsatisfactory roads which cause great congestion and act almost as car parks with cars ticking over pollute the atmosphere much more than roads on which traffic moves freely.
Mr. MacGregor : Over the past three years, just under half of my Department's total budget was spent on roads. Given that nearly 90 per cent. of all journeys nationally are by road, that demonstrates how my Department's expenditure is skewed relatively towards public transport.
Mr. Merchant : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever some people might pretend, his figures powerfully demonstrate the extent to which his budget is deliberately accentuated to encourage public transport rather than private transport ? Should not my right hon. Friend be strongly congratulated on achieving that success ?
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That success shows in the many large public transport projects that we are currently undertaking, and it shows also in the figures. Planned investment in public transport remains at historically high levels and it will involve expenditure of not far short of £6 billion over the next three years.
Mr. Tony Banks : When will the Secretary of State accept that the more money he spends on roads, the more people will use private vehicles and the more congestion and pollution there will be ? At the moment, Londoners are choking to death. Hospitals are inundated with people with respiratory diseases and the Government are doing nothing about it--they are stunningly complacent. When will the Secretary of State take action ? For example, on days when pollution reaches danger levels, he should ban the use of private vehicles in central London and he should also start doing something about engines that pollute London. Is he aware that, while he is stunningly complacent, people are choking to death on the streets of London ?
Mr. MacGregor : I have already explained that we are taking a considerable number of measures. As the hon. Gentleman knows, one of the potential measures that we are looking at is congestion charging in London, on which we are doing probably the biggest piece of international research that has ever been done. I notice that the hon. Gentleman is committed to banning vehicles on the roads in central London. I do not believe that that is what the vast majority of people want.